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I tried the Isabellae briefly a few months back and was highly impressed. Now that I have it with me for a few days as a loaner (courtesy of Sajid Amit bro) I think I have tried it enough to give a final verdict. I will write everything in points in order to make things as concise and ambiguity free as possible.
- 1. Extremely fun bass. The kind of bass that can only be achieved with a kickass DD. Punchy, tight, physical, fluttery and well separated from the remaining FR. A+ Bass. Just the perfect amount of midbass decay2. Very good midrange tuning. Chi fi IEMs usually fall short when it comes to midrange tuning (Japanese and German IEMs do midrange best from my observation). Oriolus is Jap brand but Isabellae is technically Chi fi afaik as its a co-branded release with Jaben. Midrange here is on par with Sony/Sennheiser/Final stuff. Lifelike, Clear and very energetic in the upper mids but not shouty/shrill. Lower mids have good body and warmth contributing to lush sweetness in the vocals, both male and female. It however, doesn’t have the M9 magic that somehow makes the worst of masterings sound awesome so strident tracks will sound strident.3. This one is very impressive. Isabellae actually does treble really well despite its warmish, chill tuning. It doesn’t have that choked feeling past 8k that iems like Dunu dk 3k1 pro and zen have. Very good extension and sparkle.4. Personally, the best stock cable I have found in an iem, at least from an ergonomic perspective. Feels weightless and as supple as mouse paracords. Looks beautiful as well.5. Acrylic earpieces have very good finishing and feels solid yet lightweight6. Kinda disappointing packaging for a 600 usd iem. Doesn’t even include carry pouch/case7. Fatass nozzles thus tip rolling is limited (JVC spiral dots and Azla sednaearfits might work though especially sednaearfit shorts, crystal and xelastec)8. Shallow fit might not suit everyone, especially people with OCD. I personally find it pretty comfy though thanks to its lightweight nature9. Fit is crucial. Without proper fit/seal will sound shouty, distant and lacking in bass10. Intimate staging. Not a con in my book though as its mandatory for this tuning to work. Not boxy or congested at all though11. Impressive technically despite its target to be a timbral/tonal masterpiece and not a technical powerhouse. Imaging and layering of instruments is really good. Excellent separation and impressive detail retrieval. Makes it an allrounder even in the busiest of tracks
Dunu SA6 and Zen: I personally prefer it to both. Isabellae sounds like it has taken the strengths from both Dunus and blended them together. Zen and SA6 has better detail retrieval and technical performance though but slightly worse timbre. Dunus come with much better accessories and packaging. All three IEMs are very close contenders
Monarch: I like Isabellae just a wee bit more. Monarch is slightly leaner sounding but incredibly fun in ears nonetheless. A tie in my book
Wf1000xm4: What is a TWS doing here? Because xm4 is that f’n good. I never sounds incompetent even when I come back from much higher tier stuff. XM4 with Sony hybrid tips is even safer and smoother sounding. If you don’t have the budget for Isabellae get XM4 aka baby m9 if you fancy fun, warm neutral tuning like me
CA Andromeda: Not a fan of CA sound so bias is unavoidable. Andro 2020 is technically more competent but loses out in tonality
IER M9: The 1000 usd holy grail which is the epitome of sounding just right. M9 is way more coherent, natural and does both treble and midrange significantly better. The only front where it loses out is the bass but not by much (M9 has a more neutral and subtler bass approach and despite being a 5 BA iem the bass sounds like full fledged DD bass). It also have TOTL tier technical prowess especially in imaging and layering so competition there as well
I am sure there are much better ones but haven’t tried those so won’t comment ( IE 900, Vision ears, Softears, empire ears, Shure kse ,QDC etc)
TLDR: Fantastic IEM and a 500 bucks range benchmark
Her Majesty of SubtletyPros: Tonality
Slower Mid Bass Decay
4.4 stock cable
Intimate stageCons: Technicalites and Layering
Upper treble grain
Sometimes strident with stock cable
Intimate stage (not a con for me)
Fit and sealOriolus Isabellae-Single DD
Thanks to crinacle.com for the graph
I posted a Three-Way Impression of the Oriolus iem’s that I own; Traillii, Crassi and Isa. I am now making my way through each one for its own thorough review. I started with Crassi because I have spent quality time with that monitor recently and feel like I really know it inside and out. Since I have released that review to the ether, all of my free time has been with Isabellae. I have remarked that the tuning of Oriolus definitely has a DNA. With each of the three, you can hear the familial resemblance albeit different. I mentioned in my Crassi review how the ‘Isa’ is making the rounds on the forum with a great fondness and how in my opinion is well deserved. The value of this monitor is truly exceptional.
I am happy to report that Isabellae does come stock with a supple and competent balanced 4.4 cable. This was so nice to see and I only hope more brands release this as standard termination or at least start to give us the option to select what we prefer. While I was happy with the cable, the first few weeks of listening with Isa I did start to notice some stridency during busy sections of music, creating a bit of grain. I also noticed this in the upper treble with some vocals and high hats. However, this was only noticeable during my desktop listening sessions. I am pretty sure this is due to my desktop system being more transparent. On my portable set up with Cayin N6ii R01, this stridency with stock cable did not correlate as palpable as with my desktop. I really had to listen with intent and it was subtle to say the least. However a small upgrade to the cable, like the $50 Cema Electro Acousti silver/copper hybrid cable alleviated this for me. No need to spend hundreds to thousands of dollars on a third party cable...Unless you want to.
The build of Isabellae is exceptional and fit is extremely comfortable for me although isolation and fit has been a mixed bag for others. Isa has short and wide nozzles. Which for some makes it very difficult to seal, even with my elephant ears I still struggle getting a perfect seal. The shell of the Isa is small with smooth contours for comfort. Isabellae is such a diminutive beauty. She demands the gaze of the eyes before the lure of the ears.
This “eight years in the making” tuning was worth the wait in my very humble and subjective opinion. The best way for me to describe how Isabellae makes me feel is to use an analogy. As humans, we are deeply sentimental. I keep certain material things that have zero importance or value to anyone else because to me it has mythical or magical powers. I can hold, look, smell said thing and be taken right to the place it renders in my soul. It transcends! For me, this is the lure of the Isabellae. She is like that new song, that feels like it was written just for you, she is like that coin you kept that your grandpa gave to you before he passed away, she is like the blanket your mom made for you as a toddler, that book that changed your life, etc, etc. Isabellae can be an emotional experience waiting for you to lose yourself in the music. Okay, okay, I’ll stop fluffing up the review. Onto the sound signature.
With the Isa, once you hear her for yourself, one becomes enamored. It becomes increasingly difficult to speak of her without using words such as emotional and natural, which are not the easiest adjectives to define in correlation to the objectiveness of a graph. However my ears, my brain and my heart all align in unity when Isa sings her intoxicating song is a welcome affair. The mid’s steal the show, especially in vocals and acoustic instrumentation where this life-like texture and sublime coherency resonate with equal shimmer. This characteristic sends goosebumps down my body in succession to the beautiful timbre and seductive tones reverberating from inside my head. This same feeling washes over me when I meditate. The feeling of being alive and present enabling freedom from the entanglement of thought. These monitors enable freedom from technicality embracing the intimate.
The tonality of Isa is hard for me to describe, it’s not a V shape nor is it Neutral. There is a slight emphasis in the treble as well as the mid bass. So maybe a warm, slight U shape. What I can emphatically state is the Mid bass reigns supreme with Isa. There is a great weight to the bass that creates a beautiful playing field for the rest of the frequency response. For the music I listen to most, this emphasis is welcomed. However, the right tips are needed for the correct bass frequency to be represented. I have found the large stock wide bore tips work perfectly. Most tips I tried, lost the bass completely. YMMV. Where I have found the Bass to excel is in music where the bass is real and natural. Upright bass, double bass, cello, all play to the strength of Isa. The mid bass as I mentioned has a slower decay than other monitors I have encountered. This works as an advantage for tracks that allow space within the arrangement. Such albums as Terry Callier and The New Folk Sound and Arooj Aftab’s Vulture prince really show off what the Isabellae is capable of as a whole.
The bass specifically has room to have a longer life and it works in conjunction with this style of music. Wrapped up in a warm blanket but never bloating or bleeding out the other tones. The mid bass is not uncontrolled or loose. It is well defined and textured, albeit with some softness to bass drum kicks/tom toms. Sub bass is less prominent and has a quick decay, which is needed to balance out the mid bass and keeps it from becoming sloppy, muddy or bloomy. The bass is not here to be the star of the show. But it is indeed here to support the rest of the FR, a perfect stage for the treble and mid’s to dance upon.
Isa has a slight upper mid boost starting to rise from 1k to 2.5k that highlights female vocals with power, authority and texture.
The lower mids are almost neutral with enough scoop to sound full and clear allowing harmonic undertones to push through a linear black background. Stringed instruments are as glorious as female vocals although the upper mids are more accentuated so the male vocals aren’t as textured and growling as I would want. But nonetheless are quite remarkable yet slightly subdued.
Although this is a warmer monitor, it is not dark and has a healthy dose of clarity. Its midrange is tuned to be the centerpiece. It is wide open and allows not only for vocals too transcend but also for subtle nuance to cut through the mix. For instance, I can hear Terry Callier moving in his seat and the creaking of wood through the body of his guitar. His lips opening to let out a beautiful full bodied note on Cotton Eyed Joe, or his fingers moving upon the fret board. Acoustic instrumentation, especially guitar has such great note weight with Isa and while Isabellae may not irk out every single detail in the mid range, any spaces are filled with textured mid bass note body. This allows for any nuance of detail in the midrange to be clearly displayed. I mentioned in my Crassi review that instrument timbre is some of the best I’ve heard and this proves accurate for Isa as well. Seems to me, something Oriolus is keen on.
Coming from a month long excursion with Crassi, Isa absolutely makes me want to turn my back on Crassi from a purely emotional standpoint. I am infatuated all over again. Listening to Donny Hathaway and Roberta Flack’s, I (Who Have Nothing) tells me immediately that Isa was made for this. I have listened to this album on many monitors and it has never sounded better than it does now. It is intimate and I feel as if these two are singing directly to me in the room I am writing this review. Isa makes this music palpable. Like I can reach out and touch it. The natural texture of the Isa plays well to Male vocals, although they can come off a bit less husky, less weighted than I would normally prefer. Female vocals take off and while a little on the sweet side, the sparkle and bite from the upper mid’s cuts through the sweetness and leaves a dry but full and weighted vocal. Vocals are the reward with Isa. I have found myself endlessly scrolling for vocal tracks to test with Isabellae. If vocals are in the track, Isa will highlight them front and center while the bass and treble fall in line. The midrange is the boss.
The only misstep with this wide open midrange is the sense of some grain, especially in busy or bombastic parts of a track. This is most noticeable to me with Damien Rice’s I Don’t Want to Change You. Near the end of the song, the full band plays in crescendo and Isa cannot resolve these layers fast enough and it turns to grain. Even with an upgrade cable, the grain remains although alleviated some. This is important to note if you listen to music such as Metal, EDM, Hip Hop, Etc.
The treble quality of Isa is smooth and slightly rolled off. Just enough to keep the monitor sounding warm yet clear with detail. Do not get it twisted, the Isa is not a technical monster by any means but it is clear, concise and has enough air to create some nice natural reverb around instruments.
The Isa is not a neutral iem but more of a U shape, with subtle boost in the mid bass with a peak at 8k in the treble. Similar to the Crassi, of course with different driver and tuning. The tuning is to promote the midrange frequency. Which is engaging and very wide with a rich warmth across the frequency that induces a sense of analogue feel to the sound. If you have ever listened to a great turntable with a tube amp, or a guitar tube amp then you will understand the euphonic tones coming from Isa. When I first heard Isa I described it this way to a friend. And that friend ended up with one. Hah!
I have not encountered any sibilance or fatigue even with that 8k peak. It is one of the most natural and smooth trebles I have listened to. Due to the open landscape of the midrange, the treble doesn’t need extra air or extension to shine. The midrange lucidity allows for the treble to ring through with the utmost clarity. And while clarity does not mean technicalities, you would never miss the detail here due to the lighter touch of the tuning as a whole. Unless one was seeking pure detail than I would say, steer clear of Isa. She doesn’t want to hurl every detail at you all at once. She would rather encapsulate you with a subtle grandeur.
Instruments such as the upright harp and piano have great note body that decays with a natural reverb. One that can catch you off guard, however without stealing the show and letting the midrange take precedence. Piano timbre is some of the best I have heard. The notes sound authentic and whole, even as they fade away. Listening to Keith Jarrett’s Koln Concert feels like I am sitting next to him on the piano bench. If I close my eyes, I can actually visualize Keith striking each key hunched over in full abandon to his craft. The transparency of this treble allows for the micro dynamics to shine in more intimate tracks. Especially bells, chimes, vibraphones, etc, ring through with sparkle and life-like timbre. Breathtaking to say the very least.
This is actually the most difficult part of the frequency response to speak too due to the inoffensive and smooth nature of the treble. There is some stridency in the upper treble area, especially with female vocals rising to up that area in the frequency response. Although, an upgrade cable did remedy some of this but not all because this is partly due to the tuning.
Isabellae is a subtle monitor. She will not impress you with fast transient dynamics or with a whirlwind of technical detail. Isa is definitely a transducer for the heart. What this means to me, is that I am moved when I listen to music. I am engaged with my emotions. This is my preferred listing method albeit not possible when reviewing. I will be the first one to say that I do indeed love a wide-open soundstage, separating each element with ease, hearing every nuance. It is definitely something to experience and although Isa cannot compete with that; vocals, strings and acoustic instruments are what she excels at. The Isa’s most rewarding characteristic is her correct tonality and coherence across the FR. I often find myself getting sucked into entire albums, most recently Black Acid Soul by Lady Blackbird. This is not to say that Isa has problems with dynamics, she is just playing a different hand.
Isa does separate well and although intimate, nothing feels congested. While the decay across the spectrum is on the laid back side, the midrange is full and displays vocals upfront, dancing upon the steady floor of mid bass. Every drum and cymbal strike ring through with clarity. Vocals soar with vigor and vivid texture without sibilance or harshness, especially the ladies and higher register male vocals. The bass is articulated, blooming and decaying naturally. A very pointed tuning. Layering/separation is on the slower side which falls in line with Isa’s overall laid back vibe. However Isa gives you subtle detail; the creaking of Lady Blackbird in her chair, moving the page of her music, her breathing. To me this creates a soundstage that is alluring, romantic and one that I want to stay wrapped up in for as long as I can.
If you have paid attention, I have used the word subtle many times as well as clarity. The Isa does not shy from its intimacy, she embraces it completely and wholly hence the romantic terminology. YES, I do believe a transducer has the ability to romanticize and even romance is not perfect. Onward to the comparisons...
As soon as I put these in my ears after the Isa, I immediately notice a difference in response. Turii comes off open, clean, resolving and detailed with an almost flat and linear bass. Lifting ever so slightly to support the mids and treble. This is a polarizing feeling coming from the laid back Isa with its Mid bass boost and ultra smooth treble. The treble with Turii is also smooth but much more crisp, dry and extended allowing more detail to be heard, but this treble can be fatiguing at higher volumes. The Turii has better control across the spectrum. The mid range does have that ‘je ne sais quoi’ as it does with the Isa however the Turii still has a grain to the trailing edge of the midrange. While the Turii is very similar to Isa, it is a layered monitor with a wider soundstage, making it a great partner with Classical. And where Isa resolved better with Female vocals, Turii shines with Male vocals (the audiophile’s dilemma and the never ending trade off). I have found them to be a great compliment to one another, Isa being warm and intimate with sublime emotion and Turii leaning lean with a colder note and less weight across the spectrum due to its linear and flat neutral bass. The caveat here is not that Turri is much more detail oriented with better layering and dynamics. The true caveat is that Turii does not have the emotional pull that Isa has. The Turii does not keep me searching for tracks to listen to, the Turii makes me want to put the Isa back into my ears. With the exception of Classical music, Turii dominates over Isa in this regard. Turii extends much better giving classical music the gravitas it needs to elevate and articulate each instrument in the pit.
graph courtesy of crin
The Eden is very much a mix of Isa’s musicality and open midrange sensibilities with Turii’s elicit, crisp and extended treble. The Eden would be my top pick for a single DD. It can play just about any genre with strength. The Eden I have on loan did not come with a stock cable so I am using the Ares II from Effect Audio. This is the definition of a neutral monitor. This monitor has had a lot of play time and the bass has seasoned so well. Many of the reviews I have read about this iem from years back all tell of the linear and ultra flat bass but I am not hearing this. The bass is neutral as to say it supports the midrange with a natural decay, just enough to allow the midrange to soar open in width and depth. The bass is natural and very intoxicating with its mid bass thump. Much like the Isa in this manner but the Eden being more resolving, potent and layered in the bass. Male Vocals have a heft and huskiness that is spot on tonally. Not so heavy that they are anchored to the stage but just heavy enough to impart texture and a chestiness while being just smooth enough to image the vocalist in the center. Soundstage is less width than Turri but deeper than Isa or Turii. Stage width is on par with the Isa with the Ares II. Upgrading the cable does spread the stage width wise. Female vocals are much like the Turii, sweet and a bit diffused, although natural and full, the bite in the upper registers is rolled off. Acoustic instruments here are just as appealing as on the Isa. Textured and nuanced with a nail on the head timbre! The Eden is the most balanced of the three. And now I will have to devote an entire review just to the Eden.
edit: no graph of Eden available on the web
I swapped each iem cable with an upgrade cable to hear any subtleties in sound. I used the Eletech Iliad with each transducer after writing my findings with the stock cables. I know this is a controversial topic, but I am a believer that a cable, like an equalizer is a tool to tease the most out of your monitors. Below are my impressions with each iem paired with the Iliad.
Isabellae with Iliad, offered some considerable benefits to the sound signature. First of all, the upper treble grain was removed as the layers with the Iliad where more filled in with detail than texture. The Iliad removed the texture and smoothed out the entire FR. I did miss some of the texture in male vocals but overall the Iliad tightened up the bass teasing out more sub bass while keeping the same level of mid bass. The stage opened up in all directions. However, even the Iliad could not correct the stridency during busy sections of music.
Turii with Iliad was not a good match at all. The treble became too intense and fatigued me within minutes. Turii seems to pair best with stock Isa cable. My Turii did not come with stock cable. I used the Isa stock and the Legend X stock Ares II. Iliad did spread out the stage in all directions but the note weight was much too cold and thin.
Eden with Iliad is sublime. This is synergy. The bass tightens while the stage widens and deepens. Iliad creates a deep black background that allows details to jump seemingly out of nowhere and separation becomes more articulate, layering to an impressive degree. Iliad resolves this monitor in the most natural and emotional way without rolling off technicalities and detail. Iliad will not be leaving this monitor. They are made for one another.
Isabellae was my first foray into a single DD transducer, the Turii and Eden following soon after. The coherence and timbre of these monitors is something so special and not to be taken for granted. The midrange is where the emotional aspect of sound lies. It is the midrange after-all, where we hear the voices of others. The voice of your parent, loved one or even your enemy can and often does elicit an emotional response, so it only makes sense that these monitors would trigger that same response within me. I am a true believer of the single DD. I am now on the quest to find the most resolving, coherent with correct tonality DD I can get my hands on.
Isabellae is the Queen of subtlety. She really took my by surprise when I first heard her. I couldn’t understand why I loved the sound so much at first. After all, I did own the Traillii. What I discovered is that the main music I listen to, really synergies with Isabellae and this is where preference really comes into play. As other reviews of Isa have stated. Preference is key. This is not an all rounder.
Terry Callier and The New Folk Sound
Aroj Aftab- Vulture Prince
Damien Rice-I don’t want to change you
Joshua Redman-Moe Honk
Joni Mitchell-All I Want
James Taylor-Fire and Rain
Lady Blackbird-Black Acid Soul
Gregory Porter-Brown Grass
Art Blakey-Free For All
Richie Havens-Nobody Knows the Trouble I’ve Seen/My Sweet Lord
Esmerine-Lost River Blues Pt.1
Arne Domnerus-Jazz at the Pawnshop
Keith Jarrett-Köln Concert
Roberta Flack and Donny Hathaway-(I) who have nothing
Edit: pictures taken with final e tips as I was testing them out on Isa when I took the pictures I used the large stock tips for the review*Last edited:
Isabellae: the little Bird that couldPros: Expressive midrange with excellent vocal clarity.
Fatigue-free listening with no harshness or sibilance.
Well made, comfortable design.Cons: Some vocals come off as dry and slightly grainy.
Lacks any sort of bass weight, rumble or authority.
Poor accessory selection at this price point.Thanks to my Head-Fi partner in crime @xenithon for secretly acquiring and then loaning me his Isabellae for the purposes of this review. It’s not an IEM I thought I’d get the pleasure of hearing anytime soon, but now that I have, the pleasure is all mine.
Much like the species it was named after, the Oriolus Isabellae is a curiosity in the IEM world. Sporting a uniquely-tuned dynamic driver, the likes of which was considered extinct at one point, the Isabellae is one of several single DD designs currently capturing the imagination of higher-end IEM enthusiasts.
To be fair, the so-called ‘baby’ Bird owes some of its newfound fanfare to its big sister, the now-famous Traillii (a.k.a. The Bird), sharing the same designer, same house brand, and even some familiar tonal cues.
But that’s where the similarities end. Isabellae is very much its own creation, an IEM that targets a very specific type of listener. Whether or not that’s a good thing will depend on the type of music you listen to and how closely the specialised nature of this rather special IEM is aligned to your preferences.
Unboxing and initial impressions
The Isabellae is presented in a simple yet elegant box, complete with a custom slip-on cover depicting what I can only assume to be a pair of Isabela orioles on a leafy tree branch. Inside the two-part box, the distinctive amber-like resin shells of the Isabellae earpieces are set inside a custom foam cutout, with guides leading to a chamber for the included 2-pin, 4.4mm balanced cable and a small selection of silicone stock tips.
There are no cable alternatives, no 3.5mm adapters for single-ended listening, and no carry case, just the basics. Which should come as no surprise given the much-maligned sparsity of packaging and accessories included with Traillii, one of the world’s most expensive IEMs. It’s still not good enough, though, considering many IEMs that cost far less ship with far more, but at least some effort has been made to give Isabellae a classy, albeit minimalist, presentation.
That said, I was pleasantly surprised by the build quality of the earpieces, which in person look and feel much better that they photograph (although I’ve tried my best to impart some sense of this quality with the photos in this review). It turns out what I initially thought to be rather cheap-looking IEMs are actually expertly crafted with a high degree of precision and a very smooth, silky finish that gives Isabellae a polished, premium feel.
The metal grille protecting the internals from wax and other unseemly human deposits sits neatly inside the thick, wide nozzles, each with an indented lip to hold eartips in place (a rarity among all-resin IEMs these days). A brass inlay crowns each earpiece, adorned with the Oriolus logo and what appears to be venting holes for the driver – though that’s my assumption and not a confirmed fact. The shells themselves are translucent (and hollow) and reveal the spartan internals: a single 9.8mm driver made from undisclosed materials.
Despite their wider-than-usual girth, I found the Isabellae earpieces to be very comfortable, even with my smallish ears. The medium-sized custom tips put a bit too much pressure on my canal openings, however, so I switched to my trusty Acoustune AET07s that gave Isabellae an instant comfort upgrade, and quite possibly a small sonic upgrade too.
The comfort factor extends to the included stock cable, which is one of the softest and most ergonomic cables I’ve personally used. In fact, it’s so soft and svelte that I fear for its longevity, and I’d caution very careful handling (a storage case is a must). Still, the cable is really well made, finished off with a stylish splitter and chin slider not dissimilar to the one Sennheiser uses on the new IE 900 cables, but with an even nicer matching pentaconn-style connector.
All testing was done with a HiBy R8 DAP set to high gain Turbo at volume 40 – 42 (this little IEM wants lots of power). Cable was stock with a combination of medium silicone and Acoustune AET07 tips. I generally don’t listen to hard rock (or hard anything), metal, Hip Hop, rap, reggae, funk or anything else that requires a certain grade of narcotic to enjoy. Seriously though, all the music referenced in this review is the music I used for testing, and which I’m intimately familiar with. While I didn’t cable roll for this review, I did briefly listen to Isabellae with the @doctorjuggles Cardas Clear cable, though aside from being a sonic and ergonomic upgrade over the stock cable, I didn’t take any specific notes.
Isabellae is first and foremost a mid-centric IEM. Without *****footing around it, the midrange is the star of the show, and more specifically, vocals and some stringed instruments.
Tonally I hear Isabellae to be W shaped with an extended middle section (upper midrange) and smaller lifts in bass (mid-to-upper bass) and treble (mid-to-upper treble). It’s definitely not a V-shaped IEM in that mids, on the whole, are elevated above bass and treble, though lower mids aren’t nearly as dominant as upper mids. A rather thick midbass (or possibly upper bass) bump helps to keep the midrange from coming off as peaky, which it’s not, and also helps tame some of the upper treble peaks I’m hearing, though I can see why some consider Isabellae to lean on the brighter side of neutral with certain types of music.
The intangibles are somewhat harder for me to define. Isabellae is tuned almost purposefully to shunt parts of the FR to the background, to the point where it feels like I’m listening to fragments of a song in some instances. A good analogy would be sitting with the mixer and, while keeping the vocal track elevated, lowering or muting other tracks entirely. This is a theme I’ll explore in more detail below, with specific examples, just in case I come across as crazy. But I swear that’s what I’m hearing. Again, this is not necessarily a bad thing, but a rather unique presentation that I must say I haven’t come across with IEMs before this.
If you’ve read any of my previous reviews, you’ll know that bass, in my opinion, is the foundation of the music I listen to and the IEMs I listen with. Without the right combination of quality, quantity, extension, texture and speed (both attack and decay), whatever else the IEM does…doesn’t really matter, to me.
But there are always exceptions, right? I’m going to be generous here and say that the bass that Isabellae does have is pretty good, sometimes very good with the right music. When the bass does come to play its mainly midbass, and while there is a hint of sub-bass on some tracks, the lower echelons, by and large, just aren’t there. In discussions I’ve had with @xenithon about this, we think this is due more to the very specific tuning of the IEM, rather than any deficiency in the driver.
Kick drums are generally the starting point for my bass tests, and while IEMs can’t be expected to reproduce the visceral in-your-chest feel of a real kick drum a-la full-size speakers, some IEMs can approximate that sensation fairly accurately. Sadly, Isabellae isn’t one of them. Kick drums, on the whole, lack the punch I expect from a good dynamic driver. The kick drum melee in Brandi Carlile’s The Story (1:33) comes across as pillowy and soft. The texture is all there, but the Isabellae isn’t moving enough air to make it palpable. In fact, the Isabellae is almost BA-like in its kick drum presentation here, which may actually suit some people’s penchant for less bass boom and more nuance.
Ironically the Isabellae isn’t always bass shy, quite the opposite in fact. Some stringed bass and electronic basslines, if prominent in the track, actually come across as fairly thick, though never to the point where they obscure any part of the vocals. On Reb Fountain’s Together, where the drums and lower-octave guitar strums in the intro are barely audible compared to the forward vocals, the bassline (0:58) comes out of nowhere and dominates for much of the remainder of the song.
Sub-bass is where Isabellae really struggles (or, if you prefer, chooses not to compete). You could make the argument that midbass is fairly well represented, but as it approaches the sub-bass regions it literally falls off a cliff. Listening to Missincat’s Più Vicino, the intro sequence mixes equal parts electronic midbass and sub-bass, but as I described above, it’s as if someone muted the sub-bass track. The result is an odd presentation that sounds hollowed-out, almost strobe-like in its delivery of bloomy midbass followed by gaps of non-existent sub-bass.
My take on this is that Isabellae’s bass is intentionally and exclusively tuned to support the midrange. To a point, it does this very well, and where midbass is called on to add warmth or girth to a track, it generally shows up just fine (though I still wouldn’t call Isabellae a warm IEM by any measure).
There’s a certain richness to the texture of Babatunde Olatunji’s rhythmic drumming in Stepping, and decent weight to the supporting bass and drums in Ottmar Liebert’s La Luna, but Isabellae’s is a gentle accompaniment rather than one of raw passion, lacking any of the visceral impact that real drums would have in a live environment. It’s a case of heard not felt, so if you’re after the rumble of a subwoofer in EDM and trance tracks, or the steel-fisted punch of a kick or electric drum in modern pop and Hip Hop, this is probably not the right IEM for the job. That said, the subdued bass does play to Isabellae’s strengths, so it’s not all con, as you’ll see below.
If you’re the type of person that skips the starers and goes straight for the T-bone, you’ve come to the right part of this review.
A quick glance at Isabellae’s FR graph will tell you all you need to know about its midrange prowess. From a relatively low upper bass base (how’s that for phrasing!), Isabellae quickly accelerates upwards from (somewhat subdued) lower mids to a towering peak somewhere between 2kHz and 3kHz that rises like Everest above everything else in eyeshot. It then only gently descends into lower treble, making the entire presence region very prominent and giving the sound an open, clear and very distinct character, especially in higher-register male and female vocals.
From the very first notes of Rosie Thomas’s Wedding Day, Isabellae shows its hand as an unapologetically vocal-focused IEM. Every nuance of Rosie’s incredibly crisp, emotive voice is brought front and centre, with the accompanying guitars and drums taking a step or two back on the stage. There’s a line in the song where Rosie sings “I’m gonna stop at every bar and flirt with the cowboys in front of their girlfriends”, and I can’t help but feel that’s exactly what Isabellae is doing with its midrange in a room full of treble and bass.
It’s just as well the midrange is so prominent, because treble and bass generally don’t play second fiddle in the mix, so to speak. On a track like Beyries’ Alone, there are some brighter-hitting piano strikes (0:30) and a rather thick bassline (0:50) that sometimes dominate over the vocals with other IEMs, but despite Isabellae’s upper-midbass and upper treble peaks, the vocals continue to rise above and remain distinct throughout.
The same goes for Katie Melua’s Red Balloons, a track who’s prominent midbass bloom would otherwise veil the song were it not for the dominant midrange tuning. As soon as Katie’s vocals come in at 0:22, the bass is put in its place, and all other instruments fade back in support of the vocals.
Despite the upper midrange peak and forward vocals, this is a quality midrange expertly tuned. There’s none of the shout or harshness I normally associate with forward upper mids, and even Katie Pruitt’s cutting pitch on It’s Always Been You didn’t once make me wince, a solid pass on my go-to litmus test for shout.
Vocal clarity isn’t limited to female vocals either, although male vocals aren’t as transcendent as their female counterparts. Perhaps due to its subdued bass emphasis or slightly recessed lower midrange, male vocals aren’t quite as full as I’m used to hearing them, despite remaining clear in the mix. Neil Diamond’s trademark drawl on Hello Again isn’t as chesty as I know it to be, for example, and even Don Henley is a lighter version of himself in the live MTV rendition of Hotel California off the Eagles’ Hell Freezes Over.
That’s not to say male vocals don’t sound natural – they do. But the more I listen to familiar tracks, the more I get the sense that Isabellae’s vocalisation is on the slightly drier, lighter side, and perhaps a touch too dry for my personal preferences. Despite its dryness, Isabellae doesn’t come across as clinical, possibly because this isn’t the world’s most resolving midrange, but the end result is a more relaxed, less abrasive presentation that puts clarity above all else, and does so effortlessly.
It’s not all sunshine and roses, however, and while I find Isabellae quite forgiving with most of the music I’ve listened to so far, some poorly recorded tracks show up flaws that I don’t hear as prominently with other IEMs. That’s probably because Isabellae is opening up and fully exposing the midrange without the masking influence of the bigger bass notes I’m accustomed to, but there’s something in there – possibly in the mid-to-upper treble, come to think of it – that adds a bit of grittiness to the trailing edges of some vocals.
Ocie Elliott’s Slow Tide is a prime example of this, where Jon Middleton’s vocals occasionally trail off with what I can only describe as grain. I suspect this is a factor of both the recording quality and the overall openness of the midrange tuning, as it almost never shows up in other recordings that I’m more familiar with. I only mention it here because, ultimately, I believe this IEM will win a place in your collection on the strength of its midrange, and despite its unquestionable quality, I’d be remiss not to flag its potential shortcomings too.
Strangely enough, the treble tuning of Isabellae might just be my favourite aspect of its tonality. Because of its wide-open midrange, the treble doesn’t need to be tuned with any extra air or sparkle, which will naturally come through with a lighter touch. And that’s just how the treble is tuned here, with a lighter touch, just how I like it.
While there’s a delicious sharpness to the treble in Nils Lofgren’s masterful guitar plucks in Keith Don’t Go(3:21), it’s never edgy, never harsh, and very lifelike. Isabellae excels with strings, notably guitar strings, and almost every acoustic guitar solo I’ve heard to date is palpably real, with nailed-on timbre and very natural decay.
The treble quality also comes through in Max Richter’s rendition of Vivaldi’s Winter 1, which, in combination with its nicely weighted midbass bump, makes Isabellae an enjoyable companion with stringed classical music. It’s fast enough to keep pace with the frantic violins of this particular piece, at least, and detailed enough that I can make out the different string sections from each other.
What I like most about Isabellae’s treble, though, is its smoothness. This might not be good news for treble heads that want maximum bite from their cymbal splashes and crashes, but the fact that I can get through the entirety of Michael Jackson’s brightly-lit intro to Billie Jean, splashes, crashes and all, makes me a big fan of Isabellae’s laid-back treble tuning. Again, because of the open midrange and overall clarity of the presence region, there’s no need for overt brightness here. There’s plenty of air and sparkle without dialing in the usual lower and mid-treble peaks, for this track at least.
On other tracks, like the Instrumental Trotto by Angels of Venice, the smoothness of the treble combined with its more relaxed nature means the interplay between the brighter mediaeval bells and whistles doesn’t stand out from the darker, fuller drums and harps as much as I know it could. This results in a flatter presentation that, while easy to listen to as background music, also makes it less engaging and dynamic.
Another example of Isabellae’s relaxed sensibilities is Jethro Tull’s The Waking Edge, which has in its instrumental intro some seriously edgy guitar plucks that can bite deep with more strident IEMs but barely rise above dainty with Isabellae.
Where I think Isabellae’s treble isn’t ideal, as I hinted at above, is a pesky peak in the mid-to-upper treble (somewhere between 8kHz and 10kHz) that I suspect lends the trailing edge of certain vocals a grittiness that shouldn’t normally be there. Thankfully it’s not a major concern, and is also far less troublesome than a lower-to-middle treble peak which would introduce sibilance or zing, neither of which Isabellae suffers from in my experience.
This section will be shorter than my usual intangibles deep-dive because I’ve simply not had enough time with Isabellae to really suss out its technical capabilities. That said, I think I have a fairly good handle on what I’m hearing, and by extension what you can expect to hear, and will also attempt to peg its technicalities on the scale compared to the other IEMs I own, below.
Isabellae’s stage is on the intimate side, but I don’t hear it as congested or cramped. The openness of the midrange and lightness of touch lends a very comfortable space to most of the music I’ve listened to. The forwardness of the vocals and upper midrange lift definitely contributes to the feeling of intimacy it creates, but the laid-back tonality also prevents the sound from feeling forced.
It's also not a particularly deep stage, which has a knock-on effect on layering. Yosi Horikawa’s Bubbles are all fairly well represented, but none of the ‘ball drops’ (ahem) reach much past the cone of my ears, and the stage feels quite flat and shallow as a whole. The narrower stage also affects imaging, which I find to be good but not great. I have no issues placing the instruments in Amber Rubarth’s Strive, but the track has the benefit of binaural recording, and it still fails to elicit the of out-of-head experience I’ve heard it to have with other IEMs.
Separation is actually quite good, especially vocal/instrument separation, with vocals – especially female vocals as mentioned several times in this review – always taking centre stage and standing a few steps forward in the mix. On Whitehorse’s Dear Irony, Luke Doucet’s supporting role is fairly distinct from Melissa McClelland’s front-and-centre vocals, and I think this is one instant where the muting of the deep bass notes that I know to exist in this track makes the vocals shine.
If it’s clarity you’re after, Isabellae delivers consistently. But clarity is not quite the same thing as detail. Where Roger Waters’ soulful vocals are crisp and clear in Pink Floyd’s Hey You, the ‘worm effects’ (3:21) don’t have the piercing incisiveness they should. This is likely because of Isabellae’s more relaxed treble delivery, but is also a consequence of its good but not stellar resolving power. A detail monster it’s not, but then this is not what the easygoing Isabellae is all about, and again I don’t think it’s a technical shortcoming of the driver but rather a conscious tuning choice by the Old Man.
Overall, I think Isabellae is a very competent technical performer, comfortably within the expectations of its price bracket. It would be disingenuous to compare it to the technical superiority of Traillii, for example, but in my opinion, it does fall short of the technical ability of IEMs on the other side of the kilobuck divide.
Sometimes the best way to describe what an IEM sounds like is to compare it a known quantity: another IEM. With Isabellae, I didn’t want to just use any random to compare it to, but rather like-for-like single DD IEM. As it happens, I recently rediscovered the joy of single DD IEMs with the Sennheiser IE 900 (you can read my full review here), and while it comes in at twice the price of Isabellae, I think the comparison between these two chalk-and-cheese IEMs will provide a meaningful yardstick for those familiar with Sennheiser’s flagship.
Isabellae differs from the IE 900 in three key areas: bass, midrange and treble. Jokes aside, the tuning and philosophy of the two IEMs couldn’t be more different, even though there are parts to both IEMs I enjoy equally. For starters, the IE 900’s tonality follows a gentle U-shape that, to my ears, is more balanced across the FR spectrum, which is to say that no one aspect dominates the sound over another. Isabellae’s, by contrast, is a midrange-dominated tuning, and even though there’s generally enough bass and treble to fill in on either side, there’s no question where the focus is always going to be.
You need only listen to the first 20 seconds of Lorde’s Royals to hear the deeper-hitting bass and sharper treble notes in the IE 900’s delivery. The IE 900 is fairly linear in its bass response, but emphasises sub-bass over midbass, in contrast to Isabellae’s midbass lift. The IE 900’s treble also peaks earlier and higher, though that’s somewhat mitigated by its resonators that make for a very smooth-sounding treble response. Isabellae’s treble also peaks around mid-treble but much less so relative to its midrange rise, and its treble rolls off much quicker than the IE 900’s too.
But the main point of departure between the two IEMs is the mid-to-upper midrange, where the IE 900’s obvious dip is in stark contrast to Isabellae’s bump. This makes Isabellae’s vocal presentation more intimate and forward compared to the IE 900’s more even (and occasionally slightly distant) placement on the stage. Moreover, the IE 900’s potent bass delivery, among the best of any IEM I’ve heard, helps to fill out both male and female vocals, sounding more organic in the process. With the IE 900, Alanis Morissette’s distinctive voice is wetter and slightly fuller on Univited (from the City of Angels soundtrack), compared to Isabellae’s lighter, airier rendition.
Another point of contrast, literally, is the dynamic nature of the IE 900’s presentation compared to Isabellae’s more laissez faire approach. The build-up to Bjork’s Hunter is punchier and more aggressive on the IE 900 compared to Isabellae’s gentler stroll, and when the crescendo approaches with Bjork exclaiming “…how Scandinavian of me” (1:44) the sheer size of the sound on the IE 900 dominates Isabellae’s smaller scale by comparison. Incidentally the IE 900 also does a better job of layering Bjork’s vocals, which split around the stage and distort into distinctly different variations, which Isabellae renders more homogeneously by comparison.
While it’s clear where my personal preferences lie, this is not to say Isabellae’s approach is without merit. Take any vocal-driven track with supporting strings or synths – Bread’s Guitar Man, for example – and Isabellae’s midrange tuning takes you straight to the heart of the music, albeit less excitedly. On busier tracks where instruments dominate the vocals, such as David Lanz and Paul Speer’s Whispered In Signs, Isabellae keeps the instruments at arm’s length from the vocals, making it easier to follow the lyrics.
This is even more apparent on tracks with deeper bass and female vocals. Billie Eilish’s NDA is a bass lover’s dream with the IE 900, with vocals a mere afterthought, but Isabellae flips this on its head with a pleasing bassline supporting Billie’s crystal-clear and provocatively edgy vocals. If you’re particularly sensitive to warbly subwoofer bass, Isabellae is a safer and likely more enjoyable choice with this type of music.
Ultimately, when it comes to tuning, there’s no right or wrong, just preference. So, technicalities are probably where the IE 900 earns its pricetag jump over Isabellae. Aside from vocal clarity, which is Isabellae’s trademark, the IE 900 is wider, deeper and more resolving, with more precise imaging and separation and more detail across the board. I’ll even say the IE 900’s midrange, while not quite as open, is more refined, showing up fewer artefacts in male and some female vocals.
However, as I’ve mentioned before, Isabellae is no technical slouch, and IE 900 is far from a technical marvel compared to more expensive multi-driver IEMs. Both share similar strengths unique to single DDs, like innate coherency and a cohesiveness that many multi-driver IEMs, even the really expensive ones, often struggle with. They’re also both more tonally ‘correct’ than many IEMs that get it wrong with their tuning balance. While there’s much to be said for their differences, and some will prefer one over the other, they are actually quite complementary as a pair, and together would likely enrich almost any serious IEM collection.
To be perfectly honest, I think Isabellae might be the very first mid-centric IEM I’ve ever heard. Since I’ve generally been a bass-first listener most of my life, going back to my teen days, I pretty much discounted anything that didn’t kick like a mule.
But my curiosity was piqued by several glowing reviews of mid-centric IEMs on this and other forums, to the point where I started second guessing myself and wondering if I could be missing something important on my musical journey. As the theory goes, since most of music’s fundamentals, including the human voice, is represented by the midrange, midrange-centric IEMs present those fundamentals more incisively and directly, and enhance the emotional connection between artist and listener.
As it turns out, this wasn’t exactly what I found with Isabellae. Yes, the midrange clarity is impressive, and also immediately noticeable. As soon as I hit play on the very first track, I was met with tastefully forward vocals, and instruments that receded just enough to let me know they were still there without ever encroaching on what was happening in the middle. To be fair, I don’t listen to a fortune of instrumental music, the occasional soundtrack and even less occasional classical piece, so I’m probably not the best person to ask about how this mid-centricness plays out when there aren’t any vocals to lock in. But where vocals are the drawcard, I can hear why Isabellae is regarded as highly as it is by some.
For some reason, however, it didn’t move me like I was expecting it to. I didn’t get that lightning strike of awakening the minute I heard a vocal delivery unencumbered by the rumble of drums, or the unfettered guitar solo that sounded so right that it made everything else I’ve heard before sound wrong. I’ve heard other popular IEMs that eschewed bass for midrange – Campfire Audio’s Andromeda comes to mind – and to this day I’m still wondering why they’re so lauded.
Could it be that I don’t connect emotionally with my music through the midrange – or at least, the midrange alone? Many of my favourite songs are just that because of a certain drum hit or rumble in the bass. A kick drum should sound and feel like a kick drum, failing which the music isn’t being reproduced the way it should, or at least the way I enjoy it most.
More surprisingly perhaps, I wasn’t completely wowed by Isabellae’s drawcard – its midrange. I mentioned earlier in the review that I found its note weight to be on the slightly light side, particularly with male vocals, and female vocals were not quite as full and organic sounding as I like them to be (and what I personally consider to be more natural).
But I suspect my reservations are more about what I expected Isabellae to be rather than what it actually is: an easy listening, inoffensive, gently tuned IEM adept at delivering clear, smooth music with an accurate timbre that makes that music readily accessible and relatively uncomplicated. Whereas many IEMs call you to attention and make the music sound powerful, exciting or both, Isabellae takes you down a different road, where the breeze is gentle, the leaves are scattered across sun-strewn fields, and the music is your literal companion along the way.
So, who is Isabellae for? I can tell you who it’s not for: bassheads and trebleheads. If you have an unsatiable desire for big, lifelike bass and crisp, crunchy treble, this is not your IEM. If you’re into Hip Hop, rap, big cinematic scores or guitar-driven rock, I think there are IEMs more suited to the job. Likewise, if you’re a detail nut and enjoy microscoping into your music, you’re probably not going to get much joy from Isabellae either.
However, if you’re a vocals enthusiast and don’t mind your vocals slightly dry, like a crisp chardonnay, you’ll find plenty to like here. If you want an IEM that gently caresses your eardrums while you’re working, without making you stop every few minutes to jam to the music, Isabellae is great for that. If your idea of a relaxing listen is kicking back on a lounger with a glass of port in a dimly lit room, letting the music lull you into a trance, give Isabellae a try.
For fans of adult contemporary, singer-songwriter, folk, world and light instrumental music, Isabellae is an excellent – and refreshingly affordable – option. It’s also one of the only single dynamic driver IEMs I know of that’s almost purpose-made for this type of listening, without the typical bass weight or treble stridency common to many dynamic drivers in its class.
Isabellae’s is not the most common tuning, to be sure, and I don’t think it’s something that’s going to wow anyone on first listen. But if you know what you like, and find that Isabellae fits your groove, I’m not sure there are many, or any, better options that are going to do what Isabelle does so well.
Oriolus Isabellae – Tuneful Little Bird of ParadisePros: Inspired, open, engaging tuning
Impeccably balanced and even keeled across the FR
No weird peaks or dips
Rich natural timbre
Single DD magic
Clear, open, midrange
Nuanced, well extended commanding yet highly disciplined bass
Nice mid-bass presence
Upper mids forward and present with zero shoutiness
Emotionally expressive & evocative vocals
Downward sloping, sufficiently airy, non peaky, non-fatiguing highs
Shoots well above price tier
Stock 4.4 cableCons: Not the most isolating
Not a technical powerhouse
Intimate staging (both a pro and a con depending on who you ask)“It's really hard to design products by focus groups. A lot of times, people don't know what they want until you show it to them.” ~ Steve Jobs
Following is a reflective summary of my experience with the Oriolus Isabellae. This will consist of a consolidation of my thoughts & impressions of Isa in the roughly six weeks I’ve had it, as well as some follow-up thoughts including discussion on how this IEM and concomitant exposure to Oriolus, their tuning & IEMs and overall wizardry of "The Old Man" has helped redefine & sharpen my own approach to & understanding of this hobby and what it is all about for me.
TLDR: Isa can be described as very well balanced, decently technical, perfectly coherent and possessing a rich, pleasingly weighty sound with a beautiful natural timbre and a top tier bass response. However what sets it apart for me is the inspired tuning, especially the mids, the vocals and such an immaculate balance across the whole soundscape that one can always zone in on any one element of the sound without losing sight of the whole. The Isabellae to my ears can be approximated alternately as a baby Elysium or in the spirit of what I’ve always imagined a single DD tuned like Andromeda to sound like. If either of those sound appealing or if you are someone who is after perfect balance across the FR, who places a lot of stock in a natural, forward, seductive midrange with a superbly intimate vocal presentation... the Oriolus Isabellae imho are worth a serious look.
For those who want to dig into this a little more...
1) What I am after, with the listening experience, is emotional involvement. All other factors-- technical proficiency, perceived tonal accuracy, neutrality etc.-- are secondary for me. That’s not to say that those factors don’t play a role—but for me they are simply the means to the desired end of emotional engagement.
2) The more time I spend in this hobby and the more IEMs I hear the less I feel inclined to break an IEM down into its constituent parts—bass, mids, treble, technicalities etc. More important to me than individual factors are how they all play together and coalesce into the overall gestalt of an IEM’s presentation.
3) I'm running the Isabellae, and everything else I’ve listened to in 2021, through the Shanling M8 a player which is far from neutral and in my experience has a magical effect on everything I plug into it.
4) Fundamentally to me this hobby is a form of self-discovery. This is my personal review and as such it will be expressed in such a way as is meaningful and authentic to me. Some will find my approach too subjective/wishy-washy/starry-eyed to be useful—to them I say that there are plenty of other sources of information out there that will better suit your needs. This is fundamentally a hobby for me and one of the ways I derive joy out of it is to share my personal experiences in writing. If this is at all useful/helpful/informative/entertaining to anyone, then great! If not, oh well.
Background & Preamble:
I’ve had a fixation on good music and good sound for much of my life since spending hours as a child fiddling with my dad’s-- what was in the early 70s-- pretty solid 2-channel setup and later as an adolescent saving for the latest Sony Sport Walkman I could use to play all the mix tapes I lovingly crafted on my CD player at home.
The Campfire Audio Solaris was my first real love in IEMs. This was partly because of Campfire's whole aesthetic and philosophy, which I just vibe with, but also because Solaris set the first standard for me of a mature version of my personal target, which could be described essentially as balanced with a musical mid-bass emphasis. I tried for a long time to find an IEM which for me constituted a wholesale upgrade to Solaris but for some time I never came across anything that I felt really one upped it across the board (though many came close). The Elysium was the IEM to finally pull me away from Solaris, but even then concessions were made as I had to go without dynamic bass. It seems to me now in retrospect that Oriolus and their IEMs are what I was really searching for back then but, due to a variety of factors not the least of which is Oriolus’ comparative lack of marketing and publicity, it's taken me until now to get some real exposure to them.
Oriolus is one of those brands with a unique & cool mystique to them. Every hobby has its brands that are super hyped and everybody knows and others that are more low key that you only really discover after immersing yourself in the community for a time. Oriolus is just such a brand-- they seem less concerned with fanfare and almost entirely focused on the integrity of their art. It helps that the Old Man is arguably the Masamune of tuning IEMs...without an equal perhaps anywhere in the world. Say what you will about the Traillii but there is no denying it is a masterwork of tuning, with arguably no equal right now. There's a certain satisfaction in discovering Oriolus and their unparalleled tuning despite the lack of hype and publicity as it feels like I've earned and accomplished something worthwhile after a lengthy effort-laden search.
While their overall approaches and aesthetic are distinctly & uniquely their own the more I read about Rao (IE., “The Old Man” or should I say “The Old Master”) and his approach-- which sees him eschewing industry & market norms and forging a path rooted in his own vision, with his products often generating controversy among those of a more traditional caste of mind -- the more I get the sense that he and Ken Ball are kindred spirits in a way, which is perhaps why I am so drawn to both of their respective companies. Oriolus & Campfire Audio are the Yin & Yang of my portable audio life. When I’m after stillness, connection and bliss I turn to Isa or Reborn. Incidentally I listen to my Oriolus IEMS more often while I’m at home. Conversely when I’m more active, out and about, or generally want to have a little fire & thump added to my step I invariably seek out the Dorado or Honeydew. Orilolus, Campfire and Vision Ears all seem to embody different shades of similar ideals reflected through their respective cultures. Each company uniquely embodies and reflects the ideal of visionary devoted craftsmen and each are equally dear to me.
Something I've been thinking about a lot in this latest chapter of my hobby life, in particular my decision to part ways with Elysium largely in light of Isa, is use case. Most of my listening, as in over 95% of it, is done out and about, on the go, or otherwise preoccupied with something like marking or working on the computer. When I sit right down and listen critically it's very clear all the ways that an IEM like the VE Elysium excels Isa (and absolutely everything else I've ever heard for that matter) in terms of subtle creation of an almost living breathing atmosphere, nuance in detail and naturalness, and overall technical skill. The thing is that most of the time I'm too preoccupied with whatever else is in my sphere of activity to give Elysium the attention it deserves to really do it justice.
More important to me is an IEM that can draw me in and keep the back of my mind constantly entertained and engaged in a little bubble of musical bliss whilst I go about my day. For this the thump and overall timbre of a DD is irreplaceable, even in the context of a more balanced presentation like the Isa. I took Dorado on the road with me yesterday and even with the ever-present ambient noise of worldly activity I had its nice, meaty thumping bass & rich timbre keeping me moving and engaged all day. I have done this with Elysium before too and while great it's not the same. Whereas Dorado & Isa provide a backdrop to whatever else I'm doing-- Elysium commands that I stop everything and give it all my attention so it can pull me in to the proverbial palace of Elysium and entice me with its effervescent charms. As much as I enjoy this when it happens it's not something I get to do very often due to my life and listening habits...or at least often enough that really feel I'm getting the most out of it.
All of that said let’s take a look at the Oriolus Isabellae…
Oriolus is a company I first became aware of a few years ago when @twister6 listed the Mellianus as one of his favorite IEMs. I’ve been tangentially aware of them in the time since but, given their comparative lack of marketing, hype and availability in the North American market they’ve pretty much flown under my radar…and I think a lot of people’s radar…until the of the Traillii rocked the portable audio world this year with its exorbitant cost and reputation for weaving a sufficiently potent spell that many “came to scoff but stayed to pray”.
By the time the Isabellae was announced I had become sufficiently interested in the company because of the continued astonished admiration the Traillii was commanding that dropping $600 on an entry level single DD by the company just to see what they were all about seemed like a no-brainer. Initially I had some fears that the tuning was going to be of that variety that has too much upper mids and not enough mid-bass for my liking, to the point that I even cancelled my original pre-order. Fortunately, due to the munificence of @tgx I was able to get my hands on his personal Isabellae early on to hear it for myself. Right from the moment I first heard it I was swept off my feet and won over by the graceful, inspired, alluring human tones of the Isabella.
Suffice to say all my fears proved to be unfounded and I immediately purchased one for myself. Because of my initial reticence about the tuning I went straight to some Creedence Clearwater Revival as their music is typically intolerable to me on IEMs with overloaded upper mids and not enough mid-bass. Suffice to say I was pleasantly surprised. There is a lot of clarity & definition up top as well as sufficient air and energy-- without ever veering into anything shouty, overly vibrant, peaky, piercing or otherwise fatiguing. I could see these being described as bright leaning but it's brightness done right imho-- silky smooth, airy and well extended. These are by no means a bass dominant signature but the bass is very present, thick, well defined and extended with a smooth, natural and clean timbre. Mid-bass oomph seems to dominate a little over sub-bass and lower mid presence is bang on as far as my preferences are concerned. Bass quantity seems about on par with something like the Solaris or Andromeda...but single DD coherence & magic allows Isa to get “more with less” in terms of bass my suspicion is that most people who feel that Andro and Solaris are “bass lite” should be totally fine with the level of bass in the Isabellae.
The Isabellae are a wonderfully smooth, clear, balanced and engaging listen...I often find myself excitedly flipping through my library and liking what I find each time. Standouts for me are vocals and midrange timbre in general-- I'm not usually a "vocal" guy but the texture & delivery seems totally natural, full, seductive and organic. Staging, resolution, layering etc. is good to above average but all of that stuff is secondary to me if the IEM is able to muster that "je ne sais quoi" romantic factor and sweep me off my feet. And the coherence is off the charts good...which I guess is to be expected from a single DD IEM. And just to illustrate a point-- I plugged these in for the first time thinking I'd just get a quick sense of them but they impressed me so much I was sucked in and ended up wiling away my whole lunch hour without getting around to eating lunch. Consequently I spent the whole afternoon hungry, but it was worth it.
TLDR: Encountering Oriolus and their products has opened my eyes to the depth of the craft involved in producing & tuning IEMs and further they have imho set the bar in terms of the degree of artistic expression & mastery it is possible to express through tuning. This experience has had a catalyzing effect in various elements of my approach to and understanding of this hobby. In particular it has solidified in my mind the notion of tuning as a mode of artistic expression vs. merely as utilitarian process aimed at shaping a target curve according to some algorithm. Thus far there have been many IEMs whose tuning I’ve loved and appreciated but Rao’s peerless affinity for extracting nuance, emotion and subtle textures out of vocals; of bringing the whole upper mid-range forward without overshadowing the lower mids, sacrificing weight and body in the mid-bass, sweetness in the highs or veering into anything too shouty; of coaxing out the most subtle, dense and satisfying textures from all levels of a bass response—and all the while conjuring a signature in which one is able to fixate on any individual element of it while never losing sense an overarching gestalt and unity…has, in my mind, elevated his best work to a level approaching transcendent perfection. The quality of the tuning in Oriolus' IEMs shines through whether we’re talking about the modest $600 Isabellae or the $6K titan Traillii which presently stands unchallenged as the preeminent example of IEM sound engineering craft available anywhere on the market.
Isabellae certainly isn't the technical marvel that Traillii is...but it shares the same tuning DNA and it was only after hearing Isa for the first time that I finally felt I had some sense of the spell that had been cast upon so many Traillii users since it hit the scene in January. Technicalities alone have never had an emotional impact on me...but good tuning does. Prior to hearing Traillii for myself I would imagine how Isa-like tuning bolstered by summit fi technicalities could have the sort of effect on people that Trailli has had...in fact until actually hearing it this was the easiest way for me to make sense to myself of the whole Trailli phenomenon.
Isabellae also provides me with another example of why I shouldn't read too much into FR graphs. Prior to demoing I was worried about too much upper mid presence. In retrospect I think the excellent mid-bass presence in this IEM serves to balance out the upper mid/lower treble region...which is so deftly tuned as to offer wonderful clarity, body and air without ever being shouty, peaky, metallic or anything. Highs are usually the deal breaker for me on single DD IEMs and the highs here are wonderful. I am coming to understand that regions of the FR shouldn’t be looked at in isolation as it is how they play and interact together, along with other factors, that will determine the quality of the overall sound.
Considering how Isa is able to maintain such clarity and forwardess in the upper mids & highs without ever being (to my ears) too much, I thought about the following possibilities:
a) where and how the FR slopes into the highs
In Isa the FR has a local max in the upper mids and then slopes downward into the highs. I am wondering if it is because there is not a lot of extra energy in the highs, in the form of upward slopes and peaks that I think the mids can be as forward and energetic as they are without becoming shouty or fatiguing. Compare this to an IEM like the Cayin Fantasy that slopes upward into the highs, manifesting ultimately in a few peaks and a more inconsistent midrange presentation.
b) the type of driver
I think the natural, rich and comparatively blunt character of DD timbre allows you to get away with a degree of upper mid presence that would have a greater chance of being fatiguing through BAs.
c) how much mid-bass energy there is.
In the Isabellae the FR has its two highest points at identical local maximums in the upper mids and in the mid bass. I think there is something of a synergistic parity here as the mid-bass presence helps balance out the upper mid presence. Usually in “eastern” tuned IEMs there is more of an emphasis on sub-bass than mid-bass, which is often a lot thinner and, I suspect, leaves the upper mids standing out a bit more. The Isabellae has full bodied lower mids and the bass emphasis is skewed towards mid-bass oomph over sub-bass rumble. While the bass on the Isa extends rather well there is less presence in the sub-bass region. There is lots of upper mid presence on the Isabellae however coupled with the aforementioned mid-bass presence and the downward sloping peak free highs Isa's upper mids serve to add a nice layer of clarity and air to the sound without ever becoming shouty or overly dominant.
Tuning wise Campfire Audio IEMs at their best derive no small amount of their charm by being a little rough around the edges. They remind me a little of Jimmy Page's guitar playing-- a little wild but soooo bloody soulful. They're bombastic, dynamic, in your face and I wouldn't change a thing about them. The Isabellae, expressed in terms I am familiar with, can be described as a Campfre-like tuning but polished to perfection with many of the personality quirks ironed out. Similar in character, but less bombastic, more even keeled, but slightly less distinct-- and no less engaging or enthralling to me.
My experiences with Isabellae have gotten me thinking a lot about different tuning styles and approaches. Different people have different needs and wants when it comes to sound signatures. I have often noted that there are, very broadly speaking, two general paths along which one may approach this hobby—either via the intellect (the head) or via emotional connection (the heart). I understand that most people fall somewhere in the middle, manifesting elements of both in their preferences—but in my experience most people, ultimately, tend to fall more on one side or the other. Approaching sound reproduction from an intellectual standpoint and one tends to focus primarily on technicalities, measurable factors and making sure everything is properly represented in a magnificently consistent order. Approaching from an emotional standpoint and the focus is more on tone, timbre and how one feels when listening to the sound.
In general in this hobby I find there is a lot of overlap around how we approach listening to music and our favorite gear and how we approach food. Imagine if I were to tour the world, taking in all the different sorts of food people ate and liked and subsequently came up with a sort of generic superfood that optimized nutritional needs with people’s preferences so that it was optimally nutritious and minimally offensive. From an entirely intellectual perspective this makes total sense and seems like an optimal, sensible and efficient thing to do. However to those who approach eating from an emotional standpoint, and who want to experience food that inspires and is inspired, food that has flavor, variety, soul and substance—the idea of the act of eating food to a mere utilitarian exercise, while not without its validity, is an anathema, or at the very least somewhat dull and uninspiring.
It seems to me there are parallels with the above to tuning IEMs. IEMs, for example, that are tuned to some variant of a Harman curve are not unlike the “superfood” described in the previous example—they are designed to hit some sort of common average and be minimally offensive but by necessity they are lacking a degree of passion, individuality, inspiration and, I would argue, humanity. The genius in Oriolus’ tuning at its best in that it straddles the best of both worlds—it gives us a tuning that is instantly accessible, highly technical, minimally offensive…yet at the same time sublime and inspired. It actually got me thinking of the idea of a “single perfect tuning”…I have long thought that such a thing is not possible, but my experience with Oriolus and the inspired tuning of their IEMs…has be wondering if that conclusion was premature. If I were permitted to make a bold conjecture I would propose that the u12t is the Traillii equivalent for those whose tastes are more squarely on the “intellectual” side of the spectrum I referred to earlier.
Vs Campfire Dorado 2020
I took the Dorado 2020 on the road with me for a few hours one afternoon and listened to it for the first time after close to a week straight with Isabellae. Gone was the tonal perfection, tuneful sweetness and intimate reverie that I have come to love about the Isa-- but to make up for it the Dorado ushered me into a world more primitive and wild but addictively engaging, muscular, bombastic, soulful and fun...and ultimately no less satisfying.
Ultimately, Dorado & Isabellae are nothing alike. Isabellae is about balance, tonal & tuneful sweetness, and vocal intimacy-- Dorado is about big bass, high contrast and bombastic sound. If I had to pick a “Dynamic Duo” of my IEMs that were complimentary and spanned the greatest stretch of my tastes Dorado & Isa would be it.
Vs. Oriolus Reborn
As with Isa & Traillii there are many similarities—and a few key differences between the two Oriolus models Isa and Reborn.
Isa: more balanced, slight mid-bass emphasis over sub-bass, less technical, more romantic, intimate & coherent, a smoother listen overall, more natural timbre in the highs & mids, single DD charm.
Reborn: Maintains a nice balance but is a more fun & musical sound, sub-bass monster, less mid-bass emphasis, which allows it to get away with more bass without sacrificing mids anywhere, more technical (layering, separation & resolution is better), can be a little sharper up top
Both: Bright leaning, open seductive midrange, enticing vocals, Oriolus magic.
Vs. Oriolus Traillii
The idea of a Traillii being simply Isa on steroids is a bit trite and doesn’t come really come close to conveying the epic grandeur and experience of something near transcendent bliss that listening to the Traillii can offer…but imho it’s presently the best way to roughly approximate it. I was as perplexed as anyone come January at the onset of the Age of the Bird when people—and not just people, experienced, reliable level headed Head Fi’ers-- were throwing $6K at this thing like there was no tomorrow. Is there something to this, I often wondered, or is it simply a case of mass hysteria and purchase justification? Lacking a direct frame of reference for myself it was impossible to say. It wasn’t until I heard Isa, and its deceptively alluring, emotionally evocative and balanced tuning, that I finally got some sense of what the Bird was all about—and when I finally got to hear one it did not disappoint.
The power of the Traillii is the gentle urgency with which it pulls you into a fully realized emotionally connected 3-d soundscape-- and on that level the Isabellae falls well short. That said it’s not a pure win for the illustrious Bird. While Traillii is unquestionably the better IEM there humble Isa still has a few aces up her sleeve—including superior mid-range timbre, single driver coherence, alluring intimacy and dynamic bass.
Vs. Vision Ears Elysium
In terms of midrange openness and clarity the Isa is second only to Elysium for me. Vocals on both IEMs are a thing to behold. Both male and female vocals sound fantastic-- always in the spotlight, crystal clear and with a sweet, bodied, and lifelike timbre. Male vocals on Isa are as intimate and natural as any IEM I've heard, surpassing even VE8 for me in terms of overall presentation and I would put Isa behind only Elysium for female vocals.
On the whole Ely has a number of things going for it over Isa—and most of them are in the realm of technicalities. The 1-2 punch of the mids & highs on Elysium are, (or were, now that I’ve heard Traillii) peerless in their capacity to bring a sense of air, naturalness, clarity and breathable space to vocals & instruments. If you listen to music that really benefits from this then I’m not sure anything can really compete with Ely here until you get to the Bird.
All of that said, and as with Traillii, Isa does bring some notable strengths to the table, namely (again) single driver coherence and DD timbre. Modest Isa has a decided edge over Ely for a lot of the music I listen to.
Vs. Campfire Andromeda 2020
My best and most concise description relative to what I've heard before would be to say that Isabellae is a single DD with Andromeda like tuning filtered through the genius & inspiration of a master craftsman. Isa takes a similar "mid/vocal centric & bright leaning with a mid-bass emphasis" and, sacrifices a bit of the raw resolution and staging and adds a healthy dose of DD secret sauce. To my ears Andro, Ely and Isa all share the same central tuning philosophy expressed through different driver configurations.
Vs. Campfire Honeydew
Honeydew and Isa are like an Odd Couple of single DD IEMs. If someone had remotely similar tastes and preferences as me and wanted my rec for a perfect covering-as-many-bases-as-possible one balanced one bassy complimentary pair of IEMs for less than $1K Isa & Honeydew would be my strong rec.
Vs. KBEAR Believe
I was loaned this IEM by @tgx78 because modded it has an FR curve that looks a lot like Isa. There are indeed a lot of similarities with the sound and someone who wanted something approximating Isa at a lower cost would be well advised to take a look at these. But to my ears the tuning lacks, as ___ put it the “grace and refinement” of Isa. The vocals aren’t quite as seductive and the highs seem less finessed and controlled—I found myself reaching for the the skip button sometimes due to fatigue in the highs, which doesn’t really happen with Isa. Also I think the parity between upper and lower mids isn’t as good as the latter sometimes came off a little hollow sounding to me. All in all though the Believe are a great set of IEMs and would get a strong rec from me at their tier.
Vs. UM 3DT
I never compared these two back to back but the Isabellae from memory has much more coherent overall presentation. Both have great mid-range timbre but Isa is much more nuanced and open, especially with vocals. 3DT requires a mod without which it lacks mid-bass and tends towards shoutiness in the upper mids. Isa is perfect out of the box.
Vs. Tansio Spark
Apples and oranges. Spark has more vast and open 3-d staging, more vivid, bodied and resonant highs and is much more of a technical powerhouse. It also has a weak-sauce bass response and lacks Isa's end-end coherence, natural timbre and seductive midrange tuning.
Vs. Cayin Fantasy
The Fantasy has a lot in common with the Isa from the bass to upper mids. Fantasy has a slight sub-bass emphasis so you get better perception of extension down low but you miss a bit of oomph and body in the mid-bass and lower mids. Female vocals are nice and sweet on the Fantasy and the mid-range has decent speed and texture. I found the mids to be reasonably forward, however on the whole not quite as clean, refined and polished they are on the Isabellae-- in particular with vocals. Male vocals are fuller and more natural on the Isa whereas on the Fantasy they seem a little...chesty or something sometimes. On the whole though the bass & mids of the Fantasy and the Isabellae are way more similar than different...it's the highs where the two IEMs are the most different. Isbella feels much more even keeled across the FR and the graphs of Isabellae confirm this-- the highest point of Isa's FR is in the upper mids with the trend being generally downward through the highs. This maintains balance keeps Isa free from peakiness, disjointedness, sibilance, and other issues stemming from overloaded treble.
I haven't seen graphs of Fantasy yet but if I had to guess based on what I've heard I would say that the highs, instead of sloping gradually downward following the elevated upper mids as they do in the Isa, instead slope upward. It wouldn't surprise me if there was an 8K or so peak in there somewhere. For my music I would say like 70% of the time the Fantasy sounds great, and notwithstanding Isa's cleaner mids and more seductive vocals, it stands neck and neck with Isabellae for the most part. A big difference I think is that the aim of Cayin's tuning seems to be more towards a clean and airy sound whereas Isabellae seems more about intimacy and emotional connection
The Oriolus Isabellae is the IEM that currently owns my heart. Sublime coherence and timbre across the board, summit fi bass response and along with the Traillii about as close to a perfect tuning overall as my ears have ever beheld.
Most of my IEM experience so far has been with hybrids or IEMs with multiple drivers. I think at least some of the magic in this IEM derives from its single DD coherence-- it gives the whole signature an underlying cohesiveness, completeness & unity that is simply not possible with hybrid or even multiple BA setups. And there is the tuning...so tuneful, so seductive, balanced, well tempered and sweet...it really is like being charmed by a little bird on a tree outside, capturing your attention with its simple yet sweet and melodious musings.
The Isabellae has really impressed me with its masterful tuning-- from bass to highs the signature is wonderfully balanced and oh so refined. When you're listening to it your mind is drawn to the signature as a whole but your heart is drawn into the midrange...not since Elysium have I heard an IEM that so easily draws me in to the heart and soul of what I'm listening to. Further,
In a world that has seemingly gone insane, and in a hobby where more and more IEMs are coming out that push the price to quite frankly ludicrous levels I am quite I relieved that I can derive seemingly total and indefinite satisfaction from such a modestly priced and masterful creation as the Oriolus Isabellea. I've said it before but here is conclusive proof you don't need to break $1K to attain TOTL sound. I could take this as my only IEM and be totally happy for a very long time.
For reference here are my current 5 faves and most recent attempt at a tiering:
Satya Loka (Divine Realm)
1) Oriolus Traillii
Tapa Loka (Enlightened Realm)
2) Oriolus Isabellae
3) Vision Ears Elysium
Jana Loka (Earthly Realm)
4) Oriolus Reborn
5) Campfire Dorado 2020Last edited:
Bathed in Gentle RefinementPros: Rich timbre
Cohesive and organic tapestry of sound
Textured, articulate, astonishingly high-quality bass
Full, rich, yet natural and open midrange
Bright yet buttery-smooth and tremendously even treble
Excellent resolution and detail
Highly competent technicalities
Solid built quality and impeccable comfort
High-quality stock cable and tipsCons: Mediocre isolation
The treble-sensitive might find brightness fatiguing
Nozzles may be too big for small ear canals
No choice of cable termination
No included storage/carry caseIntroduction: Oriolus is a company with an interesting history. It operates out of Japan where it has a substantial customer base, but the founder Rao You Liang, — a.k.a. the “Old Man” — is based out of Shenzhen where his studio is known by actually a variety of names. In any case the brand was relatively little-known in Western markets until recently, when their flagship Oriolus Traillii burst onto the scene with its unparalleled price tag of $5,999 (since increased to $6,599) followed by its unparalleled glowing reviews from nearly everyone who has ever heard it.
But of course the Traillii is not our subject today, but rather its little sister the Isabellae. Coming in at a mere 1/10th of the Traillii’s price tag, it trades the 8 BA/4 EST driver configuration of its big brother for a single 9.8mm dynamic. Regardless of the simplicity of the engineering, nevertheless the Isabellae has reportedly been under development for no less than seven years. For a fanatical lover of single-DDs such as myself, the opportunity to hear such an IEM boasting the venerable tuning of the “Old Man” at a more feasible price point was well-nigh irresistible.
I would like to thank Andrew at Musicteck for arranging a discount in exchange for my honest review, as well as for his continually excellent customer service. The Isabellae can be purchased here.
The specifications are below:
- Impedance: 30 Ohm
- Sensitivity: 113dB
- Frequency response: 10Hz - 40kHz
- Plug: 4.4mm / 2-pin 0.78mm
Packaging & Accessories: The packaging of the Isabellae goes for an understated simplicity rather than the glamorous presentation which can sometimes be found in other manufacturers even at much lower price points. I believe this is a deliberate choice, intended to represent to the buyer that they are paying a premium for the sound itself and not for marketing and flashy presentation. The outer slip cover reveals a simple white box, inside of which are the IEMs themselves in black foam preattached to an elegant, supple SPC cable. Underneath the foam is a bag with a shirt clip for the wire, a cleaning brush, two pairs of foam tips, three pairs of silicon tips, one one pair of double-flange tips. And that’s it.
The stock wide-bore silicon tips are an excellent match sonically for the Isabellae, and the stock cable is extremely comfortable and well-built. I see no need to change either unless one is unable to get a good seal with the stock tips, or one needs a different termination for the cable. It would have been nice to see a storage/carry case included as well as a choice of cable terminations, but given that these are quite literally the only complaints I can find to make about the Isabellae in this entire review, I am more than willing to overlook such minor omissions.
Build & Comfort: The beautiful amber shells of the Isabellae are constructed from German medical-grade resin. There is some speculation that they are 3D-printed, but I cannot speak to that myself. What I can say without any doubt is that they are as comfortable as they are solidly-built and aesthetically pleasing. Though they do have the widest nozzles I have ever encountered on an IEM (with a diameter of approximately 6.5mm), nevertheless their light weight and ergonomic shape meant that they fit my medium-small ear absolutely perfectly and did not induce any fatigue even over extremely long listening sessions.
There was also no driver flex whatsoever — the Isabellae has one vent directly over the DD near the nozzle, while it is unclear whether the small holes on the brass faceplate also serve as vents or are merely aesthetic. However, the lack of driver flex does as usual come at a cost — isolation was merely average.
Initial Impressions: In addition to being a lover of DDs, I am also a lover of the midrange. Therefore it was the early reports of the Isabellae as a superbly well-tuned mid-centric single DD that lead me to placing my own order. And while the mids are indeed exquisite, nevertheless it was instead each of the other two frequency ranges that first struck me when I put the Isabellae into my ears: the treble is definitely brighter than I expected, while the bass is significantly more substantial than the somewhat rolled-off graph might lead one to believe. Yet all three regions are tuned to perfection not only in and of themselves, but more importantly in reference to one another as well, forming the most cohesive and organic tapestry of sound that I have ever experienced in an IEM.
Some of this is of course due to the inherent simplicity of a good single dynamic driver, but there can be absolutely no doubt that the seven years spent by the “Old Man” laboring meticulously over the Isabellae were by no means spent in vain. The tuning of the Isabellae is without any exaggeration a masterpiece.
Signature: In my opinion the Isabellae has a mid-centric, mild U-shape tuning, with accented mid-bass and treble that nevertheless serve precisely as accents to the full and expressive midrange — especially vocals, both male and female. Due to the midrange focus the presentation is more intimate than expansive, though there is never any sense of congestion or claustrophobia. To me the Isabellae is TOTL tuning for acoustic and vocal genres, while remaining more than competent for any other type of music I tried with it.
Bass: As mentioned above, the graph of the Isabellae might cause one to believe that the sub-bass is somewhat lacking. This is not at all the case: the reach and extension of the Isabellae’s bass is quite good, and my non-basshead sensibilities never felt that there was any lack of rumble or impact — and indeed, if there was more of a sub-bass emphasis I suspect this would detract from the delicate softness of the Isabellae’s character.
Yes, undeniably the focus here is on the mid-bass, which is potent, superbly full-bodied, and has the highest quality and especially texture that I have ever heard. When listening to recordings with a standing bass or cello, such instruments seem to be right there in the room — the microdetails are simply amazing.
Overall this is perhaps the most articulate low end I have yet heard. And the upper bass segues with absolutely effortless cohesion into the lower mids.
Mids: Though the Isabellae is superbly balanced tonally, we come here to the star of the show. The mids here are full, somewhat warm, and astonishingly textured... yet stopping short of what I would call lush, choosing instead to craft an exquisitely natural presentation which remains clear, open, detailed. Note weight is absolutely perfect.
One of the potential pitfalls of mid-centric IEMs is the tendency to across as boring, and indeed it is usually easier to highlight the bass and/or the treble in a bold or even bombastic manner in order to attract our attention and excite our listening pleasure than it is craft a rich and inviting midrange. Yet the midrange is the heart of the music, and the Isabellae deftly lays that heart open to us. There are no tricks here, only honesty: and the Isabellae has the “grace and refinement” (to quote a certain scholar and gentleman) to lay aside all artifice and simply bring us into the heart of the music.
One of my favorite things about the Isabellae is that — like with so many other things — it effortlessly balances instrumentation and vocals, whereas so many other mid-centric IEMs tend to push the vocals significantly to the fore. I think this is due to the extremely judicious pinna gain, and to my ear the “Old Man” has here achieved another of the remarkable triumphs of this IEM.
Treble: The upper region of the Isabellae definitely leans bright. Yet this is brightness executed (please pardon the pun) more brilliantly than I have ever heard before — it is absolutely silky-smooth, with no peakiness, no harshness, no artificiality. This is not upper-range emphasis done in order to accomplish some sort of trick, to create any illusion of technical capabilities that that IEM does not truly possess. It is simply a shimmery layer of brightness, accenting the sound in an absolutely smooth and cohesive manner. For myself, after I became accustomed to the sound I never once found it piercing or offensive (though for the treble-sensitive it might eventually lead to some fatigue). And the extension and air provide the perfect complements to the more intimate staging that the Isabellae as a mid-centric IEM portrays.
Soundstage & Technicalities: I would definitely classify the Isabellae as a musical IEM rather than an analytical one, and I am quite sure the Traillii has no problem surpassing its younger sister in technicalities. Yet despite its musical nature and despite its possession of only a single dynamic driver, the Isabellae never once falls short in technicalities to my ear. Even given its more intimate staging (with good width and height and decent depth), nevertheless it always handles imaging, layering, and separation with absolute aplomb. Every range of the Isabellae has abundant resolution and details, never in a flashy or boastful fashion, but rather in service of its supreme realism, drawing one ever deeper into the richness of the musical tapestry on offer. And by this time it should go without saying that its timbre and cohesion are quite simply unsurpassed.
Conclusion: The “Old Man” in his follow-up to the Traillii has proved beyond any doubt that his success thus far has been no fluke. Even amidst the recent renaissance in single-DD IEMs, the Isabellae stands as a shining jewel illuminating what a single driver can do in the hands of a master craftsman. For those who are searching for a balanced and musical sound — and especially those who prize richness of timbre as the crème de la crème of truly outstanding transducers — the Isabellae must surely be amongst the most pre-eminent choices even in this Golden Age of IEMs.
This is the first 5/5 I have yet awarded.
One Punch DDPros: Natural sound
Easy to driveCons: No adapter (for 3.5mm)
No carrying case includedOriolus Isabellae ($659)
Driver(s): 1 x 9.8mm DD
Connector: 2-pin (with 4.4mm default plug)
Impedance: 30 Ohm
Frequency response: 10Hz~40kHz
Weight: 13g per side
（1）Amber transparent shell + Brass faceplate
・Cleaning tool (brush, pick)
Oriolus Isabellae was purchased by me for my own personal use and collection. All sound impressions were obtained based on what I hear, using the stock cable, PEE51 USB-C dongle, and Azla SednaEarfit Light tips. I am not affiliated with Oriolus nor any brands mentioned in this review
The Oriolus Isabellae came in a simple white box ensleeved with a silver-gray carton with a red 'Oriolus' text and bird logo. Or at least what seems to be a bird drawn from a simple line
Opening the box, inside you can find the pair of IEMs perched comfortably in a foam cushion with its cable attached
Beneath the first layer of the foam cushion, is a box-shaped portion of space allocated for Isabellae's accessories and warranty card
The accessories included include some pairs of eartips, cable clip, and cleaning tool. All of which I left in peace. Except for that one pair of silicone tips which came already attached
One thing I wish could be added along with the accessories though, an adapter/converter for the cable's default balanced plug into 3.5mm unbalanced output. You may need to have an adapter ready if you don't have a native 4.4mm balanced input built with your source
All in all, the Isabellae came packaged in a relatively minimalistic style
The Isabellae was built with an acrylic material shell encasing its 9.8mm dynamic driver. Its transparent amber shell blends well with its brass faceplate in color
The transparent shell also has this lovely opacity to it, that is not too light nor dark in hue. It seems to me resembling of an amber fossil. Fun fact, the Isabellae itself was named after an elusive bird (Isabela Oriole) which was once believed/presumed to be extinct for many years. But was rediscovered in the early 90s (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Isabela_oriole)
The faceplate has this round embossing, with six small vent ports encircling it. And at the center an engraved 'Oriolus' text
Its nozzle diameter is slightly on the bigger side, above average in size. Around 0.2~0.3mm bigger than that on the Elysium
The monitor is connected via a standard 0.78mm recessed 2-pin sockets. And at the opposite end of the pathway, its bore is installed with metallic mesh. The cable is terminated with 4.4mm balanced plug by default. Very supple and flexible to wear, it has also this smooth rubber-like quality to its wire shielding
The cable seems to have this durable/lasting build quality to it, that is light and comfortable to wear. It's split in the middle by a small metallic silver splitter with an 'Oriolus' text printed on it. Plus a uniform slider which can be adjusted rather easily up-and-down
Overall a good ergonomic design, with its preformed ear hooks and high quality heatshrinks minimizing any form of discomfort on the ears
Firstly, despite the Isabellae being based on a DD design, there was no typical driver flex heard when I insert them. It is also quite easy to drive from any phone. Not very picky and not sensitive to hisses. You can basically use whatever, at the same time it can also scale with higher-powered source
The Isabellae I think was tuned with more focus primarily on upper-mids and treble. Acoustic performances sound especially exceptional, the standout being both male and female vocals. They sound vivid yet smooth, highly textured to resemble its real counterpart. It's lush and natural, with each note having a good organic timbre and sweetness on top. Vocals on Isabellae are a wonder to behold. It is perhaps the most natural and inspiring vocals I've heard
Presentation in general is tilted towards the brighter clearer side, yet with a hint of warmth incorporated within each note. The enveloping air surrounding it felt somewhat surreal. Striking a good balance between glow and shade
The single DD on Isabellae is remarkable for both its reach and finesse. It is well-implemented to showcase each unique sound throughout the frequency range. Bass goes low into the sub region, and is tight as well as controlled without ever becoming muddy. Its quantity is rather neutral, with less rumble and more emphasis on its mid-bass punch. It has this high definition, full-bodied dense quality to it, that is simultaneously delicate in its execution
Bass on these aren't exactly enormous 'canon' or 'monster'-like in overall character. It is a bass I'd describe as tending more towards precision and controlled explosion, rather than a reckless berserk. It embodies DD texture, size and rumble well, but with minimal necessary force so not to ever become overly bassy. It is a deceivingly skillful and potent bass, prioritizing quality over quantity. And it felt very substantial throughout. The upper-bass are as well attenuated slightly to allow better articulation and separation, playing more of a faithful supporting role to its midrange
Stage dimension on the Isabellae I think are more on the intimate side, with highly transparent seamless layering. It is not overly grand or spacious per se, but it makes up for this with its airy open nature. It has a good depth and an average height, complemented with a slightly above average width
The Isa has this lifelike imaging that impressed me so. Not for its excess of microdetails, but more primarily of its natural and coherent representation/mimicry of the real primal sound. Especially whispers, hum, breath and such are captured and recreated nicely, making them sound quite 'alive' in a sense
Midrange positioning is forward-centered, with its treble supporting it, and next bass. They're all neatly arranged and close-knit. They synergise well to enhance the mids (especially upper-mids), and as a result capable of creating a highly immersive listening experience
Resolution in particular is also one of Isa's highlight. While being relatively high, it doesn't try to show it off too much. Preferring a more reserved style through mixing it with some warmth, and with less analytical more laidback approach. Instruments and vocals largely are well-defined and pretty tonally accurate
Its treble I think is also one of its stronger points. It extends far into the upper-end whilst remaining smooth, gentle and lucid throughout. It avoids any sharpness or peaky sibilance. Unlike some IEMs with more eclectic treble, the tuning on the Isabellae reflects a more elegant projection. It has this far-reaching extension and smooth downward slope after the 7~8kHz area. This allows for instruments to have enough radiance to them, while giving that velvety caressing touch to tail its rendition
*All listening was done at night when everything was quieter
Vision Ears Elysium ($2563)
Driver(s): 1 BA x Low, 1 DD x Mid, 2 EST x High
＋ HALC (High-precision Acoustic Levelling Chamber)
Connector: 2-pin (with 2.5mm default plug)
The Elysium is an IEM which I think have somewhat similar tuning to the Isabellae. It focuses its highlight in producing one of the most natural, vibrant and lifelike sound emulatable
They both are brimming with this vivacious midrange and treble. With the Elysium executing this through its hybrid EST configuration, and Isabellae through its single DD. Each endowed with their own unique vision and way to demonstrate their prowess
Vision Ears to me have always this neat and clean signature sound that I admire. It's a blend of one part surgical precision details, and another serene captivating musicality
Oriolus on the other hand, with their knack for reproducing lush organic vocals, capable of educing that raw human emotion, leaving the listener spellbound with the entire sound
Both of which appeal to me, and I personally enjoy them very much. Starting from the base, their timbre; the Elysium has what I'd describe as having this crystalline tender and clear sound. It has this superb shimmering clarity that is more delicate in the upper end. The Isabellae diversely sounded calmer, and its timbre have a more liquid quality to it. It's warmer in tone and overall much more coherent particularly in the lower end
Bass felt slightly less substantial, with less deeper reach on the Elysium. It also has a quicker attack and decay, as well as a smaller imaging size. The sound felt more like 'thump', whereas on the Isa it sounded closer to a 'boom'. Mind you, this was derived from listening to the universal Elysium model. The bass was said to improve as you get a better seal on the custom version. But overall I feel the Elysium has this lighter quicker bass, and not as voluminous relative to the Isabellae
Note size felt leaner and lighter on the Elysium. It has this gleaming quality to each note, that is accentuated together with its cooler more refreshing tone. Electric guitars has more bite and sounded better on the Elysium. It's more agile, yet at the same time capable of evincing more details with the higher resolution it possesses
Both have each uniquely vivid imaging. With the Elysium rendering it in a more accurate and precise manner. It has more sparkle and shimmer up top. But at the same time, have less presence in the lower midrange. The Isabellae sounded more dynamic and composed in that area. Its midrange just sounds more solid/weighty and well put together from bottom up
The stage presentation on the Ely felt slightly narrower with taller height. Both have similar average stage size and an open airy feel. It's slightly warmer on the Isa. And airier as well as brighter on the Ely. Both have excellent extension in their treble, the Elysium having more presence and consequently giving its presentation more clarity and clean atmospheric feel to it
String and brass instruments are especially good on the Ely. It's capable of portraying them with such svelte and grace. Relatively thinner and crisper in its sound. Treble notes have slightly less warmth, and more energy to them. Isabellae's treble on the other hand sounded more mellow, and less prone to showing sharpness or peaks in some tracks. This is more apparent, with the Elysium showing more pronounced 'ts', 'ch' or 'sh' sound, which I'm quite sensitive of. In general, the Elysium I hear has relatively more prominence in its upper-mids and treble display
Vocals sounded thicker, more lush and organic on the Isabellae. More laidback and natural. It emanate and melts in your ears the more you listen. It sounded less clinical, with more spread imaging and fuller note consistency. Albeit at the expense of some speed, agility, and details. Lower vocal registers in particular sounded notable on the Isa. And I found it really enjoyable to listen to and feel, as it imparts its reverberation throughout the stage